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No. 13 Auburn mindful of last year’s loss at Vanderbilt

Jan 13, 2024; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers forward Johni Broome (4) drives to the goal during the second half against the LSU Tigers at Neville Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Amid a span in which upsets have been the talk of the college basketball world, No. 13 Auburn has bucked the trend during a nine-game winning streak.

The Tigers (14-2, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) haven’t faced a ranked team during that span. But given that seven of the AP’s top 10 teams lost to unranked opponents last week (No. 2 Houston did it twice), Auburn’s recent run — no team has come within single digits of the Tigers since a 69-64 loss at Appalachian State on Dec. 3 — has been an outlier.

Auburn will be a huge favorite when it visits Vanderbilt (5-11, 0-3) on Wednesday night in Nashville, Tenn.

Ken Pomeroy’s analytics suggest this may be a special team. The Tigers, ranked fourth in his ratings on Monday, join Houston as the only teams ranked in the top 10 of his adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings.

So does the stat sheet. Auburn forward Johni Broome (15.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game) has put together an SEC Player of the Year-caliber season.

And few teams can match the Tigers’ depth: 10 players have played in all 16 games and average at least 15 minutes a game. In Saturday’s 93-78 win over LSU, Chad Baker-Mazara came off the bench to add 19 points and five steals.

“(The bench) won us the game today,” point guard Aden Holloway said. “Like, we would get a slight little lead, the first group. But then, when (Baker-Mazara’s) group came in, they just blew out the lead to a good 18, 20.”

Two things should serve as motivators for coach Bruce Pearl in case the Tigers get complacent.

First, Auburn led by 28 in the second half before a 21-2 LSU run made things interesting late in the second half.

Second, the Commodores beat Auburn, 67-65, when the teams last met in Nashville on Feb. 18 last season.

This Vanderbilt team is no match for last year’s squad, which went 11-7 in SEC play and made the NIT quarterfinals. Saturday’s 69-56 loss at Ole Miss was the Commodores’ third loss in a row and their 10th in 12 games.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse has grown increasingly frustrated during that stretch. On Saturday, he hinted at a youth movement, starting freshmen JaQualon Roberts and Malik Presley and giving each a season high in minutes (29 and 23, respectively) while taking a not-so-subtle dig at the university’s admissions policies regarding experienced transfers in his postgame radio show.

“We don’t add juniors and seniors at Vanderbilt,” Stackhouse said. “They just don’t transfer to us. That’s what it is. So we know that.”

Vanderbilt’s best player is Ezra Manjon (who spent three years at UC Davis), who leads the team in minutes (30.5), points (16.3) and assists (3.4) per game as well as free-throw percentage (.878).

The Commodores have played better of late, just missing upsets of Memphis (a two-point loss on Dec. 23) and Alabama (falling by three on Jan. 6).

A key has been Tyrin Lawrence (13.6 points per game), who has scored in double figures his last six games after missing four games earlier in the year due to injury.

–Field Level Media

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